If you, a family member or friend has been injured in an accident, it’s important to be aware that you might be approached by touts offering legal services.
This is increasingly common in South African hospitals and emergency rooms, and even at road accident sites. Touts approach people who are confused, suffering and in pain – and sometimes, they can be convincing and persistent.
However, it’s not in your interests to use the services promoted by touts. Their behaviour is unethical and untrustworthy.
What is touting?
At best, touting is a direct and persistent attempt to sell something to, or solicit work from, a person.
At worst, it is straightforward fraud, involving illegal gathering of information without the accident victim’s knowledge or consent.
The most common type of touting occurs in hospitals. It revolves around personal injury claims, especially Road Accident Fund (RAF) claims.
This practice has become so prevalent that it raised the ire of the former Minister of Transport, Dipuo Peters. She described touts as vultures and “tsotsis” who were robbing the victims of accidents.
How to recognise touts in hospitals
Be suspicious about recommendations or referrals you receive, both en route to the hospital and once in the hospital.
“Recommendations” from strangers
Anyone you don’t know who approaches you or your family members to “recommend” an attorney or legal firm is probably a tout.
For example, you might find that a tow-truck driver, paramedic or even a police officer suggests you make a personal injury claim, and recommends a particular lawyer or legal firm.
Someone waiting alongside you in an emergency room might also do this.
In South Africa, chances are that this person has been paid to work as a tout.
Offers of legal services or large payouts in hospital settings
Similarly, be suspicious if a stranger in a hospital setting approaches you and:
- recommends you make a personal injury claim
- suggests you can get large sums of money as compensation for your injury
- offers contact details for a personal injury lawyer or firm
- suggests you sign a power of attorney for a law firm.
Unsolicited emails or phone calls
If you or a family member has recently been in a road accident and you receive an unsolicited offer of legal assistance, it may be because your details were illegally sold to a tout.
A previous chief marketing officer for the Road Accident Fund, Nozipho Jafta, reported that certain police officers sold road accident reports and even commissioned claimant affidavits for touts.
In one scam that was uncovered, this went even further. Corrupt members of the police gleaned sensitive information from accident reports and passed it to third-party agents.
The agents would then visit accident victims in poor communities, and convince them to lodge RAF claims through them. Doctors were even roped in to provide fraudulent medical reports.
The completed claim documents were then sold to unscrupulous lawyers.
Rules against touting in the legal profession
In South Africa, the Law Society of the Northern Provinces (LSNP), KwaZulu-Natal Law Society (KZNLS) and the Cape Law Society (CLS) all prohibit the practice of touting. Lawyers and their representatives are not allowed to approach potential clients directly for work.
The LSNP has published guidelines on what exactly amounts to touting. According to these guidelines, it’s not legal (or ethical) for attorneys to:
- approach potential clients face to face to promote their services
- employ or incentivise anyone to arrange referrals or introductions of clients
- make unsolicited visits or telephone calls, or send emails or letters, to anyone who has an existing attorney/client relationship.
Similar guidelines apply in the health profession. For example, professional guidelines published by the Health Professions Council Of South Africa (HPCSA) note that, “A practitioner shall not canvass or tout or allow canvassing or touting to be done for patients on his or her behalf…”.
A rule of thumb to avoid falling victim to touts
The key rule is avoid engaging with anyone who approaches you directly, claiming to be a personal injury lawyer or legal agent.
Never, ever share information of a personal or medical nature with a stranger who approaches you at the scene of an accident or in a medical environment to offer you legal services.
Touting is considered unethical – and sometimes it’s illegal. No credible attorney would risk being struck off the roll, and no reputable law firm would break one of the cardinal rules of its own profession.
Instead, if you have a personal injury claim, contact an established, reputable law firm with a proven track record in personal injury law. This is the best way to avoid scams and ensure you get only competent legal advice and assistance.